She watched, as she did so often before, from a distance. Without realizing it she had grown to love this family. She knew all their habits and family interactions. She enjoyed their playful way with each other and wondered at the unspoken tension that so often surfaced among them. She noted the deference and awe which they all gave to the ancient Methuseleh, who seemed to be a kind of glue that held them all together. She was often startled by the intensity of his gaze, and wondered at times if he knew she was there. She was watching him now as he was telling a story to the others. So enthralled was she in the shapes he created as he spoke that she hadn’t noticed that one of the family was absent. The middle boy, the anxious one, was not there. Then she sensed his presence behind her, turning in shock and disbelief. He had discovered her hiding place. His eyes twinkled in the moonlight as he greeted her, ‘Good evening, Nightingale’, he whispered, ‘My family would like to invite you to join us for some supper’.
Bennai had never experienced a welcome like it, for all that she had been watching them, they seemed to know more about her. ‘Your Grandfather, the chief’, enquired Noah after formal introductions had been made, ‘does he know of your visits to us?’ Bennai shook her head, not yet trusting her voice to speak as she adjusted to the warm welcome of this family. But a heavy pause required an explanation of her actions, ‘No, wise one, at least not that I know of. My Grandfather sees much more than just by eyesight. He sees deeply into the heart, but I have been careful, I only come here when my absence would not be noticed’. Her eyes flashed in gratitude to Ham as he handed her a plate of cooked vegetables mixed with salted lamb. Ham glared at his younger brother Japheth, who quickly moved sideways to allow his brother sit beside their guest. He gazed at her with raw open wonder that she found enchanting and unnerving at the same time. There was much talk, laughter and even music around the fire pit that night. As dawn was threatening to break, Shem and Ham walked Bennai back to the edge of the Oasis. Shem walked slowly behind the others to allow them time to talk together. He smiled warmly when he watched their hands intertwine as they said their lingering goodbyes. He laughed gently when Ham started humming to himself as they made their way back to their own camp. Neither they nor Bennai noticed the Chief emerge from his hiding place, a sinister smile twisting on his ageing face. ‘Let the child sleep, with dreams of happy possibilities’, he thought to himself, tonight would be all the sweeter as he removed this traitor from his village.
Ham was finding it hard to concentrate, each action seemed an unnecessary distraction from the feelings that bubbled within him. His mother smiled secretly to herself. She wasn’t keen on anyone associated with the Taller-men, too much of her own history was scarred by them, but the joy she could see shining through her second son eased her concerns. But it was going to be tricky, she and Noah would have to give careful thought as to how to make this match a reality. She knew all too well the arrogance of Bennai’s grandfather. He would never agree to a match, in fact he would take perverse pleasure in inflicting pain on a member of her family. Ham’s innocent joy brought back memories of Noah’s determined face when he rescued her. She resolved to try that very day to make the impossible happen. She laid her plans carefully, it would be important that no one else would know her intent, there was potential for brutal violence both within her family and without, if she got this wrong.
As the afternoon wore on, she feigned tiredness and a sore back, and convinced her youngest son to agree to prepare the evening meal as she took a walk to stretch her aching limbs. She made as if to climb the hill behind the tent, along her favourite pathway, but she stole left when she was out of sight of the camp, emerging further down the valley. She walked openly into the village, the lamps twinkling in the dwindling light. An instinctive caution crept over her as she sensed something was seriously wrong. She could almost taste the tension. Drawing her shawl over her head she joined some of the villagers as they were moving with purpose and excitement to a nearby hill above the Oasis. As she drew closer, she could sense a thrill tremble through the gathering crowd.
She made her way towards the front to better see what was happening. She could make out the Chief standing on top of the hill, the last rays of the sunset silhouetting him against the darkening sky. His back was to the crowd as he set up a large wood pile. When he turned back with the flames lit, she could see a sinister hunger on his face, and a madness. Even before he began to speak, Naamah realised what was about to happen. She and Noah had listened to the shrieks of terror echoing up the valley far too often as poor unfortunates were sacrificed to appease the insatiable gods of the village. She knew she couldn’t bear to watch, to witness such horror. The madness staring out the Chief’s eyes convinced her that whatever pleading she was planning would be pointless now. She turned to leave, pushing her way through the heaving throng, only to spin around again as she heard an all too familiar voice cry out in terror from beside the burning pyre, ‘Grandfather, please no, no don’t do this, Please!’